Saturday, July 26, 2014

Red Sox Trade of Jake Peavy to Giants Looks Like Grand Larceny



Despite being in the midst of the worst season in his 13-year career, Jake Peavy proved to be an excellent trade asset for the Boston Red Sox.

On Saturday, Boston sent Peavy to the San Francisco Giants in exchange for minor league pitchers Edwin Escobar and Heath Hembree, both of whom were in Baseball America’s top 10 preseason ranking of the Giants' prospects.

That's an amazing return for a veteran pitcher who appears to be well into the downside of his once-great career.

Peavy has been struggling for most of the season, and that's reflected in more than just his 1-9 record.

Consider the following:

• The righty's 4.73 ERA is his highest in any season in which he's made at least 20 starts.

• His 1.43 WHIP is the worst of his career.

• He is averaging 7.3 strikeouts per nine innings, his lowest since 2003.

• His 3.3 walks per nine are also his worst rate since 2003.

• His 20 home runs allowed are the most in the American League.

And then there's Peavy's win-loss record, which is not entirely his fault.

Peavy is winless in his last 15 starts — the second-longest such streak in Red Sox history, behind only a 16-game drought that Jim Lonborg suffered in 1969.

However, Peavy has been the victim of poor run support this season; the Sox are averaging just 2.76 runs per game in his starts, the lowest figure for any qualifying starter in the American League.

No matter, the Red Sox got a tremendous return for a pitcher who is clearly having the worst season of his career, and who appears to be in a steady decline.

Furthermore, Peavy is scheduled to be a free agent after this season.

Though the Red Sox won the World Series with Peavy last season, his limited contributions were not a primary reason.

Over 10 starts and 64.2 innings with Boston in 2013, Peavy went 4-1 with a 4.04 ERA. He also managed 45 Ks and 19 walks in those 64.2 innings.

It was a decent performance, but Peavy was hardly a difference-maker, much less a dominating starter.

Since arriving in Boston at the 2013 trade deadline, Peavy has looked like a shadow of the pitcher who won the NL Cy Young Award back in 2007, while also winning the pitching Triple Crown.

The fact that the Red Sox received two upper-level minor league pitchers — one a right-handed reliever, one a left-handed starter — in return for pending free agent is remarkable.

The St. Louis Cardinals expressed an interest in Peavy, but were primarily focused on picking up the remainder of his 2014 salary (approximately $5 million). The Cards didn't seem inclined to give up premium talent for a two-month rental of a fading pitcher.

That the Red Sox were able to extract two top-tier prospects from the Giants is a credit to the negotiating skills of Ben Cherington.

In the end, the two teams agreed to spilt the remaining $5 million on Peavy’s $14.5 million contract as part of the trade.

Peavy was not part of the Red Sox' 2015 plans, so there was no way they were going to extend a $14 million qualifying offer to him after this season.

Furthermore, Peavy wasn't helping the Sox this year. It was time to give Peavy's rotation spot to Brandon Workman and see what the 25-year-old can do over the season's final months. The Sox need to know if they can entrust a rotation spot to him out of spring training next year.

With all of that in mind, it was time to cut bait with Peavy. Yet, the Red Sox used that bait for a tremendous, and rather unexpected, haul.

Hembree was ranked as the Giants’ seventh-best prospect entering the year, and he was described by Baseball America as a potential late-innings arm.

The 25-year-old right-hander has a 3.89 ERA with 10.5 strikeouts and 3.0 walks per nine innings in 41 Triple-A relief appearances.

Escobar entered the season ranked No. 2 in the Giants system and No. 56 in the game by Baseball America.

However, the 22-year-old has struggled this season. Escobar is 3-8 with a 5.11 ERA, 7.8 strikeouts and 3.0 walks per nine innings in 20 starts for Triple-A Fresno.

Ultimately, the Red Sox got two of the top-10 players in the Giants' system for a two-month rental of Peavy, which is nothing short of stunning. Such an outcome was previously unimaginable.

Kudos to Ben Cherington. He was able to simultaneously plan for the future, while not hurting the team in the present.

Peavy is a great competitor and, by all accounts, a great teammate. He gave the Red Sox everything he had every time he took the mound.

The problem was, that just didn't add up to much anymore.

Saturday, July 12, 2014

With a Deep Pool of Prospects and Lots of Payroll Flexibility, Red Sox Well Positioned to Rebuild for 2015 and Beyond



When the Red Sox made their blockbuster trade with the Dodgers in August of 2012, they shed hundreds of millions of dollars in payroll obligations, as well as three All Star players.

At that moment, the Sox were entering a rebuilding phase and planned on using the immense talent in their farm system as a "bridge" to the future.

The Sox suddenly had ample money to spend as they saw fit. The future looked bright. But building a World Series winner appeared to be a process that would require at least a few years.

So, when the Red Sox instead won the World Series the very next season, they shocked the baseball world. Everything that needed to go right for the team did. Virtually every player performed at the top of his abilities and had a career year.

As amazing and improbable as last year's team was, this year's is just as confounding.

Even after winning three straight games — just their third winning streak at least that long this season — the Sox still find themselves nine games below .500 and 9/12 games out of first place.

The good news is that the Sox have 2 1/2 months to see what a roster full of rookies can do. This will provide time for players such as Mookie Betts, Christian Vazquez, and Rubby De La Rosa, for example, to adjust to the majors and prove their worth. They'll get over the rookie jitters and get used to the greater amount of travel, press and the higher level of competition.

Boston still has a number of highly valued prospects in the minors, and lots of payroll flexibility for next season. This will make building the next Red Sox World Series contender a fascinating process.

The contracts of Jon Lester, Jake Peavy, Stephen Drew, Jonny Gomes, Koji Uehara, David Ross, Craig Breslow, Burke Badenhop and Andrew Miller all come off the books after this season.

That leaves the Sox with less than $75 million in payroll obligations next year.

Mike Napoli and David Ortiz are each due $16 million. Shane Victorino will make $13 million, with Dustin Pedroia paid $12.6 million and Clay Buchholz $12.25 million. Edward Mujica is on the books for $4.75 million.

That's a total of just $74.6 million in commitments.

The rest of the roster will include five arbitration-eligible players — Junichi Tazawa, Daniel Nava, Felix Doubront, Mike Carp and Jonathan Herrera — none of whom are due large raises.

Another half-dozen players — Jackie Bradley Jr, Xander Bogaerts, Christian Vazquez, and, as a result of smart negotiating, John Lackey — will make the minimum salary or slightly more.

Even if the Sox re-sign Lester to a long term deal with an average annual value of $20 million per season, that would still leave the team an enormous amount of flexibility. The luxury tax threshold will remain $189 million in 2015.

So, while the 2014 season appears to be a loss, and perhaps a great disappointment, the Red Sox are well positioned for the years ahead.

By November, if not by the July 31 trade deadline, Ben Cherington and Co, will set about building the next World Champion team.

Saturday, June 28, 2014

The Red Sox Desperately Need a Shakeup



Mike Napoli says the Red Sox offensive woes this season are the result of being a very different lineup from last season.

"I mean we're not the same team as last year. We're different. We're just not the same," said the Red Sox first baseman. "Everyone keeps on comparing us to last year, but it's different guys in here. We've just got to figure it out."

However, in large part, the Sox are indeed the same team as last year's World Series winners — on paper at least.

Let's go around the diamond:

David Ortiz is back at DH.
David Ross is back at catcher, albeit in a backup role.
Napoli is back at first base.
Dustin Pedroia is back at second base.
Stephen Drew is back at shortstop.
Johnny Gomes is back in left field.
Daniel Nava is back in left and right fields.

The Sox lost Jacoby Ellsbury and Jarrod Saltalamacchia to free agency, and Shane Victorino to the DL. But seven primary members of last year's lineup are still in place.

The Red Sox' problem is not the loss of Ellsbury and Salty; it's the abysmal performances of the guys that are still in the Sox lineup this season.

The Red Sox will be exactly halfway through the season after tonight's game, and most of the lineup's batting statistics are downright pathetic.

Just look at the numbers:

Napoli has just 9 homers, 11 doubles and 30 RBI.

Pedroia has 4 homers, 27 RBI and a slash line of .262/.334/.372.

Xander Bogaerts has 6 home runs, 19 RBI and a slash line of .254 /.334/.384.

Though David Ortiz has been the lineup's best run producer, with 19 home runs and 49 RBI, he has a slash line of .254/.355/.479, The former and the latter are well below his career averages.

A.J. Pierzynski has just 15 extra-base hits, to go along with a slash line of .250/.279/.353.

Jonny Gomes has just 11 extra-base hits and a slash line of .235/.335/.361.

Daniel Nava has just seven extra-base hits, five RBI and a slash line of .223/.313/.308.

Jackie Bradley Jr. has 17 extra-base hits and a slash line of .209/.289/.298.

David Ross has eight extra-base hits, five RBI and a slash line of .174/.237/.337.

The above numbers look like the stats of A-ball hitters trying to play in the majors.

Brock Holt, a minor league player that most fans were hardly familiar with prior to this season, is the team's best hitter.

The Sox rank 26th in the majors in scoring. Their .367 slugging mark is the worst in the AL, and is 28th in the majors.

Napoli (and perhaps some of his teammates as well) is in denial. The Red Sox problems have nothing to do with the guys that are no longer with the team and everything to do with the ones that still are.

To be clear, the Red Sox have just three players slugging over .400, which speaks volumes about how pathetic this lineup is.

We're halfway through the season, and just one Sox hitter has more than nine home runs.

Just two Red Sox hitters are batting above .262.

Need I say more?

Last year, almost every hitter in the lineup had a career year. Success bred more success. It became contagious.

This year, failure and ineptitude have bred more of the same. They have spread like viruses through the Sox lineup.

The Red Sox have been stricken by apathy and complacency. This team needs a trade to break the spell of listlessness that afflicts them.

It may be too late to make a playoff push, but, at the least, upper management should allow John Farrell to field a team each night that possesses some passion, fire and competency.

The current lineup is an embarrassment to this great franchise. Surely, the Red Sox' dedicated fans deserve a team worth rooting for down the stretch — even if it is playing for nothing more than self-respect and genuine competitiveness.

Friday, June 20, 2014

Remembering Roger Clemens' 20-Strikeout Game: April 29th,1986


Roger Clemens shows off the ball he used in his 20-strikeout game.

On the night of Tuesday, April 29, 1986, 23-year-old righthander Roger Clemens took the mound at Fenway Park to little fanfare. It was just the 18th game of the season, and a mere 13,414 fans were sprinkled throughout the ballpark.

They had no idea that they were about to witness history. Nor did anyone else.

In fact, there was just one photographer stationed in the photographers' well on the first base side to record what was about to unfold.

There was good reason that no one was expecting anything special from Clemens that night; he was making just his fourth start since having arthroscopic surgery on his right shoulder only eight months earlier.

The right-hander's torn labrum had healed quite well, but no one knew it at the time.

Midway through the 1985 season, Clemens's career was in danger of being derailed. His shoulder was hurting so much that he could barely lift his pitching arm, which limited him to pitching in just 15 games that season.

In August, Dr. James Andrews was enlisted to remove cartilage near Clemens' rotator cuff via arthroscopic surgery, which was a relatively new procedure at the time.

No one knew what would become of Clemens when the 1986 season rolled around.

But on this night, it was immediately clear that Clemens' shoulder was healthy and fully healed.

The hurler struck out the first three Mariners he faced, all swinging, and then fanned two of the three in the second inning.

Bob Costas recounts that magical evening here.

When it was all said and done, Clemens threw a complete game, allowing just one run on three hits.

But the main thing all 13, 414 fans in attendance would remember was that Clemens blew away the Mariners' hitters all night long.

The right hander made history that night, becoming the first pitcher in Major League history to strike out 20 batters in a nine-inning game.

Watch Clemens recount his history-making performance here.

But the fans weren't the only ones who were impressed that evening. Even the officials were amazed.

"Home plate umpire (Vic) Voltaggio told a batboy after the seventh inning, 'This is the best pitching performance I've ever seen,'" wrote Columnist Leigh Montville in Sports Illustrated.

Kerry Wood and Randy Johnson are the only other pitchers to strike out 20 batters in nine innings. But Clemens was the first, and he also accomplished the feat twice.

More than 10 years after his 20-strikeout mastery of Seattle, Clemens matched his legendary accomplishment on September 18, 1996 against Detroit, at Tiger Stadium.

This second 20-strikeout performance occurred in Clemens third-to-last game as a member of the Red Sox.

Monday, June 16, 2014

Red Sox May Seek Starting Pitching Despite Dwindling Playoff Hopes



The Red Sox could be without at least three members of their 2014 starting rotation next season.

Both Jon Lester and Jake Peavy will become free agents when this season concludes, and John Lackey may choose to sit out the 2015 season rather than play for the Red Sox at the league minimum.

The Red Sox had language inserted into Lackey's contract stipulating that in the event he missed extensive time due to an elbow problem, the team would get control of him for an extra year at the league minimum (roughly $500K).

At age 30, Lester will earn $13 million this year, the most he has made in any season. The Red Sox need to ask if he will get better and be more valuable in his 30s than he was in his 20s. Is he worth $20-$25 million per season over at least five years?

The Sox reportedly made Lester a four-year, $70 million offer earlier this season, which he promptly rejected.

Yes, the Red Sox can afford Lester. But is such an expensive, long-term investment in a pitcher in his 30s prudent?

Peavy will make $14.5 million this season, meaning he will be overpaid. Next year's major league qualifying offer will be in the range of $15 million for a one-year deal. The Red Sox have to determine if they think that Peavy is worth that much, or if any team will offer him a high-dollar, long term deal.

In my estimation, he is not worth that cost, and he belongs in the National League.

On the open market this winter, Lackey would likely get at least two years (maybe three) at $15 million per year. If he decides that pitching for the minimum is not worth the injury risk, and would potentially jeopardize a long term deal beginning in 2016, Lackey might just choose to sit out the 2015 season.

It would be a reasonable decision. Why take the risk?

With all of that in mind, the Red Sox are thinking beyond this season in their quest for controllable starting pitching. That's why the Sox could still be buyers at the trade deadline, even if they are out of playoff contention.

According to multiple reports, the Sox have been scouting Cubs' pitcher Jeff Samardzija, who is 2-6 this season with a 2.77 ERA. The 29-year-old has struck out 82 batters over 91 innings of work.

It's been reported that the Cubs previously offered Samardzija a five-year contract in the $60-million to $65-million range, which he rejected. However, it may not be all about the money.

The pitcher is also said to be concerned about the Cubs' timeline to become competitive again. Chicago has endured four straight losing seasons, and is well on its way to a fifth.

Samardzija is controlled through the 2015 season via arbitration. He will be highly coveted at the deadline and will likely have big price tag. The Sox will probably need to part with at least three top prospects to land him.

But, Samardzija will be 31 after the 2015 season, when he is scheduled to become a free agent. Why would the Red Sox be inclined to give him a big payday at age 31 if they won't give one to Lester at age 30?

Additionally, there has long been speculation that the Sox have interest in Phillies' starters Cliff Lee (age 35) and Cole Hamels (age 30).

Lee has a large contract and isn't healthy at the moment. He is owed $25 million in 2015, and there is a $27.5 million club option for 2016, with a $12.5 million buyout. That's $27.5 in guaranteed money, and it could be as much as $52.5 million over two years.

If Lee is traded this season, it would most likely be a post-waiver deal since he’s unlikely to be healthy enough for a trade before the July deadline.

Hammels is owed $22.5 million each season through 2018, totaling $90 million. There is also a $20 million club option for 2019, with a $6 million buyout. This means that any team acquiring Hamels will be on the hook for at least $96 million over four more seasons, and up to $110 million for the next five.

The Red Sox will have some difficult, yet interesting, choices to make in the coming months. But, one way or another, they need to address their starting rotation for the long term. And they may begin doing that as soon as next month, despite their dwindling playoff hopes.

Monday, June 09, 2014

Red Sox Need More Than Stephen Drew to Fix Their Problems



Due to injuries and poor performance, the Red Sox roster and lineup have been in disarray this season.

Once Will Middlebrooks went on the disabled list due to a fractured right index finger, the left side of the Red Sox infield went into a state of flux.

Initially, the Sox turned to light-hitting utility man Jonathan Herrera to man third base, but that proved to be inadequate. Herrera has posted a slash line of .250/.328/.268/.596 this season.

Then the Sox signed free agent third baseman Ryan Roberts as a stopgap. But Roberts played in just eight games and, over 19 at-bats, posted a slash line of .105/.227/.105/.333. That wasn't sufficient for the Sox, who quickly designated the veteran after just 11 days.

The Red Sox eventually re-signed Stephen Drew, ostensibly, because their offense was weak and lackluster. But Drew is hardly the solution to that problem.

Here's Drew's slash line for each of the last three seasons:

2011: .252/.317/.396
2012: .250/.326/.382
2013: .253/.333/.443

Weak hitting. Weak on-base. Weak slugging. Drew has been consistently underwhelming for three straight seasons.

Will Middlebrooks, who will soon be activated from the DL, has more offensive upside than Drew.

Middlebrooks hit 32 homers over his first 615 major league at-bats, or roughly a full season's worth. That kind of power is hard to find in today's game.

In fact, right-handed power has become a lost commodity in the majors. Just 27 right-handed hitters drafted in 2000 or later have had as many as 30 homers in a single major league season.

The last right-handed hitter drafted and developed by the Red Sox who hit 30 homers in a season was Nomar Garciaparra, who launched 30 homers in 1997 and 35 in 1998.

So, the Sox haven't given up on Middlebrooks. They've seen enough to know that some genuine potential exists, assuming that Middlebrooks can simply stay healthy. To this point, that's been a struggle.

Yet, Stephen Drew was brought in to fill a void that he has no ability to fill.

The Red Sox real problems lie in the outfield, which has been dreadful this season. The team has gotten almost no production from its current group.

Here is the OPS for each member of the Sox' outfield, in descending order:

Gomes: .722
Victorino: .627
Sizemore: .624
Carp: .603
Bradley: .580
Nava: .513

None of the above numbers is worthy of a starting role in the Sox outfield. In fact, most aren't even worthy of being in the majors.

Cumulatively, the Sox outfield has a .612 OPS, the worst, by far, in the majors. But it goes beyond that.

This group of Red Sox outfielders is historically bad.

The Sox outfield's OPS is the second worst of any group since 1974, only marginally better than the 2011 Seattle Mariners (.608).

And the Sox outfield's batting average is the absolute worst; heading into Monday night it is a combined .214.

Jonny Gomes is currently the Red Sox most offensively productive outfielder, and that's not saying much.

Through 137 at-bats this season, Gomes has posted a .234/.335/.387/.722 slash line, to go along with 5 homers and 24 RBI. Hey, at least he has those "intangibles."

Jackie Bradley Jr. is batting .203/.286/.294/.580. In other words, his slugging percentage is what his batting average should be.

Grady Sizemore is batting .222 /.291/.333/.624. This is the same guy that used to be a super star. His health is just fine. But two missed seasons have turned him into terrible baseball player.

So far, the Red Sox solution to all this futility was to sign the weak-hitting Drew. Everyone should have expected that Drew would be rusty after not playing competitive baseball since last October, and he has certainly lived up to that expectation.

Through 14 at-bats, admittedly a very small sample size, Drew has one hit, two walks and five strikeouts. As of today, he has posted a slash line of .071/.188/.071/.259.

This is what the Red Sox are getting for a $10 million, pro-rated contract this season.

When the Sox re-signed Drew, it was clear that their problem was the lack of offensive production from their outfield, not from their shortstop.

Yes, third base has been a black hole, but the Sox still believe in Middlebrooks and they knew he would soon return from the DL.

Wouldn't you rather see Brock Holt at third every day, with Bogaerts still manning shortstop? Yeah, they probably would too.

The Sox still need to address their shortcomings in the outfield, but they now have 10 million fewer dollars to fill that pressing need. That's not a paltry sum, given that the Sox' opening day payroll was nearly $163 million, the fourth highest in baseball, according to the Associated Press.

However, the luxury tax threshold for this season is $189 million, leaving the Red Sox some room to maneuver, if they think this current team is worth investing in. Ultimately, the Sox have roughly $16 million to play with this summer, if they so choose.

Whether it's one of their own minor league prospects (Mookie Betts?), or a trade for a proven major league outfielder, somewhere down the line — likely sooner than later — a change is gonna come.

At the least, the fans and the ever-important NESN ratings demand it.

This team is tough to watch, and Stephen Drew won't fix that.

Tuesday, May 20, 2014

Stephen Drew is Not the Solution to the Red Sox' Problems



According to multiple sources, shortstop Stephen Drew is back with the Red Sox on a one-year deal. The pro-rated contract will pay Drew based on the $14 million he would have received from the Sox if he had accepted the qualifying offer they made him last fall.

That means Drew will receive roughly $10 million for the remainder of this season.

Will Middlebrooks has been ineffective and injured this season. The third baseman is batting just .197, with a .305 OBP, .324 slugging, 2 homers and 9 RBI. Additionally, Middlebrooks has committed two errors in just 21 games.

It's easy to speculate that Drew will move into the shortstop position he occupied last year and that Xander Bogaerts will move back to third, where he supplanted Middlebrooks in the 2013 postseason.

However, Bogaerts has also been struggling at the plate this season, posting a 269 average, .369 OBP, .379 slugging, 2 homers and 7 RBI. He also leads the Sox with four errors in 41 games.

Drew played excellent defense at shortstop last season, and posted a .777 OPS, which ranked second in the AL at the position. But that really reflects just how little offense the typical shortstop now provides in the post-steroids era.

Let's break down Drew's numbers a bit.

Drew batted .253 last season, which is hardly exciting. In addition, he posted a .333 OBP, meaning he didn't walk much, or help his chances of getting on base. And he slugged just .443, which is not particularly inspiring.

To top it off, Drew was horrendous in the post-season, batting just .111.

So, it's hard to argue that Drew's absence has been the source of the Sox' offensive woes this season. He's simply not a powerful offensive force any more.

No reasonable person should assume that Drew, who hasn’t faced live pitching since October, will quickly find his timing in late May/early June. Expecting Drew to be an impact player for the Sox is unrealistic. It may even be fanciful.

As I wrote the other day, the Red Sox' offensive problems are not related to the guys who haven't been here in 2014, such as Drew or Jacoby Ellsbury. The trouble lies with the guys that are still here. They're just not getting it done.

With the exception of 38-year-old David Ortiz, virtually every batter in the Sox lineup has been underperforming. It's the exact opposite of last year.

Is Drew really the solution to these offensive troubles? I, for one, am quite skeptical.

Here's Drew's slash line for each of the last three seasons:

2011: .252/.317/.396
2012: .250/.326/.382
2013: .253/.333/.443

Weak hitting. Weak on-base. Weak slugging. In my world, that's not a $14 million-per-year player. And it's the reason that no one was willing to meet Drew's demands of a long term deal, with an average annual value of anything near $14 million. It wasn't simply about draft-pick compensation.

Drew's weak hitting isn't merely an aberration of the 2013 season; it's been three years in the making.

Drew could certainly help to shore up the Sox' defense on the left side of the infield. He was second among American League shortstops last season with a .984 fielding percentage.

But any regular observer of this team knows that defense isn't the reason the Sox have a losing record on May 20th.

The problem is offense, and the Sox still haven't found the solution for that.

Quite clearly, Stephen Drew is not the answer.

Sunday, May 18, 2014

Red Sox Below .500 at the Quarter Mark, yet Still in Hunt



The Red Sox have now played just over a quarter of the 2014 season and find themselves at 20-22. That's something that most of us didn't anticipate when the season began.

At some point, the Red Sox record will reflect who they truly are, but that time may not yet have arrived.

The American League is presently a bastion of mediocrity — at best. Only seven of the 15 AL clubs have records over .500, and they're now playing National League clubs on a fairly regular basis.

This leaves the defending World Series Champions poised to strike and to eventually separate themselves from the pack.

Sure, there is reason for concern right now. But this season is a long way from over.

On the bright side, the Sox are still just 3 games out of first place in the rather weak, or highly competitive — depending on how you view it — AL East.

The first-place Yankees are just four games over .500, and the division is in a daily state of flux. As of yesterday, just six AL teams had a winning record.

The truth is, this division and, in fact, the whole league remain wide open. But the Sox need to stop flailing, continually taking one step forward, followed by one step backward. The Sox have lost four of their last five games, dropping back-to-back series in the process.

The Red Sox' lineup features three players who are 25 years old or younger: Xander Bogaerts, Will Middlebrooks and Jackie Bradley Jr. The problem is, all three players are struggling mightily.

Here's a look at how the three players are faring this season:

XANDER BOGAERTS

Season: .254 average, .360 OBP, .348 slugging, 1 homer, 5 RBIs

JACKIE BRADLEY JR.

Season: .200 average, .301 OBP, .296 slugging, 0 homers, 13 RBI

WILL MIDDLEBROOKS

Season: .197 average, .305 OBP, .324 slugging, 2 homers, 9 RBIs

But the Sox' struggles go well beyond their youthful trio.

David Ortiz is the only Sox player with more than 27 at-bats that is batting at least .300. Big Papi also leads the team with 11 homers. The next closest player is Mike Napoli, who has five.

Ortiz, currently slugging .572, is the only Sox player slugging over .400.

Amongst Red Sox' regulars, Shane Victorino is third in on-base percentage at .316, which is alarming.

The team's offensive ineptitude has been on display over the last two games against Detroit, in which the Sox have scored a grand total of one run.

Here's how the Sox rank offensively among the 15 AL clubs:

Runs: 173, 10th

Home runs: 34, 11th

Slugging: .379, 11th

Total bases: 540, 12th

Batting average: .244, 12th

While Red Sox' pitching has been better, it hasn't been exceptional. Even on the mound, there have been struggles.

Amongst AL teams, the Sox starters are:

12th in batting average against, at .268
10th in ERA, at 4.12
9th in wins, with 14
4th in innings, at 251
6th in walks, at 86
2nd in K's, with 232

So, while there are some clear issues with the rotation, the team's struggles can clearly be laid at the feet of its offense, or lack thereof.

Given that last season the Sox were first in the majors in runs (853), on-base percentage (.349) and slugging percentage (.446), while posting the second highest batting average (.277), it's reasonable to expect this team to get hotter along with the weather.

Yes, the Sox lost Jacoby Ellsbury, but he has a rather pedestrian slash line of .278/.357/.404 so far this season. Moreover, the Yankees' center fielder has just 1 homer and 14 RBI. Based on the numbers so far, Ellsbury isn't yet a huge loss for the Sox, or the reason for their offensive woes.

How about the absence of Stephen Drew? Well, considering that last season he posted a stat line of .253/.333/.443, it's also hard to argue that his loss has been a big blow to the Sox offense.

The problem is not with the guys that are gone; the trouble lies with the guys that are still here. They're just not getting it done.

Yes, the Sox took some risks by going with three young, relatively unproven players at key positions around the diamond: third base, shortstop, and center field.

But given the minor league track records of Bogaerts and Bradley, and the fact that Middlebrooks hit 32 homers in 615 major league at-bats (essentially a full season's worth) over his fist two seasons, you have to think that they are all going through the typical travails of young players trying to adjust to the rigors of the major leagues.

Pitchers have made their adjustments to each of them. Now it's time for each of them to make their own adjustments.

Given that it's mid-April, there's still time for that to happen. But it would be really beneficial to the Red Sox' fortunes if it happened sooner than later.

For now, the Sox will have to rely on their veterans, as they should. But for that to happen, guys like team-leader Dustin Pedroia will have to give them more than his .277/.349/.399 slash line, along with his 2 homers and 13 RBI.

That isn't cutting it. And we all know he's better than that.

Tuesday, April 01, 2014

Red Sox Ability to Repeat Will be Driven by Pitching


Jake Peavy, Jon Lester and Clay Buchholz will be critical to the Red Sox success this year.

It's been said time after time: Pitching wins championships. That old adage certainly applied to the 2013 Boston Red Sox. How the Sox fare this season will once again rely on their starting pitching, as well as their bullpen.

The Red Sox' 2014 rotation will be comprised by mainstays Jon Lester, John Lackey, Felix Doubront, Jake Peavy (who joined the club last July 31) and Clay Buchholz.

Some of the above group carried a heavy workload en route to winning the World Series last season. The Sox played an extra month of baseball in 2013, which ultimately shortened their offseason by a month. That may have some carry over into 2014.

However, the 2013 post-season aside, this particular Red Sox rotation isn't a bunch of innings eaters.

Left-hander Jon Lester threw a career-high 213.1 innings last regular season, then added 34.2 more in the postseason. Lester was the only member of the staff to reach the 200-innings threshold.

Right-hander John Lackey worked 189.1 innings (215.1 including the postseason), his highest cumulative total since 2007.

The always fragile Clay Buchholz threw just 108.1 innings last season, and has never thrown more than 189.1 in any of his seven seasons in the majors. That's troubling.

Jake Peavy threw a combined 144.2 innings last year between Chicago and Boston, and the righty has pitched 200 innings only once since ‘07.

Meanwhile, left-hander Felix Doubront (26) is the only starter under age 29, and he threw a career high 162.1 innings last season.

The Sox will need this group to pitch a lot more innings than that this season in order to be a playoff team.

Here are the vital stats of the Red Sox starters in 2013:

Lester: 15-8, 33 starts, 3.75 ERA, 67 BB, 177 Ks, .253 OBA, 1.29 WHIP
Buchholz: 12-1, 16 starts, 1.74 ERA, 36 BB, 96 Ks, .199 OBA, 1.02 WHIP
Doubront: 11-6, 27 starts, 4.32 ERA, 71 BB, 139 Ks, .261 OBA, 1.43 WHIP
Lackey: 10-13, 29 starts, 3.52 ERA, 40 BB, 161 Ks, .247 OBA, 1.15 WHIP
Dempster: 8-9, 29 starts, 4.57 ERA, 79 BB, 157 Ks, .256 OBA, 1.45 WHIP
Peavy: 4-1, 10 starts, 4.04 ERA, 19 BB, 45 Ks, .230 OBA, 1.16 WHIP

The Red Sox had five other pitchers make at least one start, and as many as seven starts.

With that rotation, which doesn't look especially impressive on paper, the Sox won the AL East and the World Series.

While some of the above numbers may seem a bit pedestrian, what the Sox' rotation had in spades last season (notwithstanding Clay Buchholz) was good health. For the Sox to have anywhere near the same level of success this year will require more of the same.

Lester has proven to be a workhorse throughout his career, having thrown at least 200 innings in five of the last six seasons. Given his history, there's every reason to expect that he'll do it again this year.

If Lackey can repeat his performance from last year, which was customary for him when he was with the Angels, he will be a formidable presence in the Sox rotation once again. Being that his elbow woes are now well behind him, that's also a reasonable expectation.

Given his age, Doubront appears poised for a breakout season. The left-hander has the raw stuff; he just needs to harness and control it, consistently throw strikes and not issue so many walks. If he trusts himself, and the defense behind him, Doubront could establish himself as one of the best young lefties in the game this year.

For his part, Peavy, a former Cy Young winner, says he is feeling healthier and stronger than at any time since his days with the Padres. Considering that San Diego was where Peavy won his Cy Young award and had his greatest individual success, that's encouraging.

Buchholz is the big question mark. Though he may be the best pure pitcher on the Sox staff, he's never proven that he can stay healthy and consistently make his scheduled starts. It's quite telling that since Buchholz made his big league debut in 2007, he has never made as many as 30 starts in a season. That needs to change this year.

The Red Sox are going with the customary seven-man bullpen, and will start the season with the following relievers:

Righties:
Koji Uehara
Edward Mujica
Junichi Tazawa
Burke Badenhop
Brandon Workman

Lefties:
Andrew Miller
Chris Capuano

This group looks better, on paper at least, than the 2013 pen. To begin with, both Andrew Bailey and Joel Hanrahan, who each endured elbow surgeries last year, are now gone. Given their limited contributions last year, their absence this season is an immediate upgrade. Malcontent Alfredo Aceves is also gone. It all amounts to addition by subtraction.

The Sox also used relievers such as Pedro Beato and Matt Thornton last year. Both were ineffective, and both are now gone.

In place of those relievers, the Sox brought in former St. Louis closer Edward Mujica, who saved 37 games for the Cardinals last season, plus Burke Badenhop, who posted a 1.19 WHIP over 62.1 innings for Milwaukee last year.

Despite being a starter throughout his nine-year career, Chris Capuano also joins the Sox pen this year. The Massachusetts native gives the Sox additional starting depth right out of their own bullpen.

Lefty Craig Breslow has started the season on the 15-day DL, and should join the Sox a mid-month. So, the team's pitching depth has already come into play. Brandon Workman, who went 6-3 with a 4.97 ERA last season, takes Breslow's spot for now.

The Sox view Workman as a starter. But he was so effective last season that they are glad to have him on their roster, even if it's in a bullpen role for the time being. Most impressively, Workman fanned 47 batters in 41.2 innings last season, while surrendering just 15 walks.

The Sox also have some excellent minor league-depth options that include the following:

Rich Hill (L)
Drake Britton (L)
Alex Wilson (R)
Rubby De La Rosa (R)
Dalier Hinojosa (R)

The Sox also have additional starting depth in the minors, including righties Allen Webster, Anthony Ranuado, and Steven Wright. Webster and Ranuado are expected to assume rotation spots in the next couple of years, perhaps as soon as next year.

In sum, due to their veteran presence and bounty of youthful talent, the Red Sox appear poised to make another run at the Fall Classic. Naturally, repeating is difficult; no team has done it since the 1998-2000 Yankees.

However, if the Sox can stay healthy, they have enough quality pitching to give it another run in 2014.

Thursday, March 13, 2014

Red Sox Roster Coming Into Focus



There are roughly two weeks remaining in spring training, and the Red Sox began making initial roster cuts today. There were no surprises; 12 minor league players were reassigned to minor league camps.

At this point, the Sox' roster appears mostly fixed, with few questions. The primary one is, of course, who the everyday center fielder will be: Jackie Bradley Jr. or Grady Sizemore. More on that in a moment.

The Red Sox will carry the customary 12 pitchers; five starters and seven relievers. The rotation, notwithstanding the retirement of Ryan Dempster, will have no surprises at the outset.

Manager John Farrell has already indicated the order of the starting rotation as Jon Lester, John Lackey, Felix Doubront, Jake Peavy and Clay Buchholz.

If that order seems odd, it's a testament to the great spring that Doubront is having, as well as a clear desire to diminish the workload and expectations of Buchholz. It will also give the Sox, and Buchholz, a strong advantage over other team's fifth starters.

However, putting Buchholz in the fifth spot may only be a temporary arrangement, perfect for the first month of the season, or so. The rotation is always subject to change given injuries, days off, rainouts, and how a certain pitcher matches up with another team's pitcher at any given time. For example, a team's No. 1 or No. 5 pitcher doesn't always lineup against the other team's equivalent.

The bullpen, though mostly set, is not yet fully formed. There is still at least one spot in play.

The Sox will likely go with Koji Uehara, Junichi Tazawa, Burke Badenhop, Edward Mujica, and lefties Andrew Miller and Chris Capuano, Given that lefty Craig Breslow just threw his first spring bullpen this week, and seems to be having some sort of shoulder issue, it appears likely that he will begin the season on the disabled list.

That leaves one open bullpen spot, with plenty of competition.

Farrell has been impressed with Drake Britton so far in camp, and it appears that the lefty is in the running for a bullpen role. But Brandon Workman proved himself at the big league level last year and even pitched in the World Series. It's tough to argue that he's not worthy of a roster spot.

However, both Britton and Workman have options remaining, so there is no danger of losing either player if they are assigned to Pawtucket to start the season.

Beyond that pair, the Sox will have a ton of depth options at the Triple-A level: Alex Wilson (R), Joe Mijares (R), Rich Hill (L), Francisco Cordero (R), Dalier Hinojosa (R), and Rubby De La Rosa (R) will all be waiting for a call.

The Red Sox infield is pretty well settled at this point. A.J. Pierzynski and David Ross will split time behind the plate, with the former expected to catch approximately 100 games. The Sox will have Mike Napoli at first, Dustin Pedroia at second, Will Middlebrooks at third and Xander Bogaerts at shortstop. Newly acquired Jonathan Herrera is projected as the utility infielder.

David Ortiz, of course, will be the designated hitter and bat third.

That's seven infielders, plus the DH. Add in the 12 pitchers and we're up to 20 roster spots, leaving five remaining.

The outfield is where it gets a bit more complicated. There are six players currently vying for five spots.

Gold Glove winner Shane Victorino will patrol right field once again, and that's about the only certainty. However, it seems likely that the combination of Daniel Nava and Jonny Gomes will again form a left field platoon.

Center field is where the action is. Bradley Jr. was the heir apparent after Jacoby Ellsbury departed for New York. But Sizemore has surprised everyone in spring training. He's shown speed, agility and even good timing at the plate, which is particularly amazing for a guy who missed the last two seasons. The question is how often, and how many games, Sizemore will be able to play this year.

The above group amounts to five players for five outfield spots. But that doesn't account for Mike Carp, who posted a .296/.362/.523/.885 slash line last season, along with nine homers and 43 RBI in 216 at-bats.

Despite his versatility in playing left and first, Carp is battling for a roster spot and could be the odd man out. He has no minor league options remaining, which is why Seattle traded him to Boston at this time last year.

According to multiple reports, scouts from the Pirates and Brewers have been at Red Sox camp keeping an eye on Carp, who leads the Sox with three homers (tied with Bryce Brentz) in 21 at-bats this spring.

Barring an injury, something has got to give: someone from that group of six outfielders has to go. While Carp may seem like the most likely candidate for a trade, the Red Sox really like his defensive versatility and his ability to come off the bench and deliver key pinch hits.

There is a rather simple solution.

Don't be surprised if Bradley starts the season back in Triple-A. The young outfielder has been struggling this spring, posting a .208/.296/.333 line, with just five hits (one for extra bases) in 24 at-bats, and more strikeouts (six) than walks (three).

Additionally, Bradley still has options remaining and assigning him to Pawtucket would allow the Sox to keep Carp on the roster and use Bradley as a depth option down the line this season.

After all, the Grady Sizemore experiment / feel good story is just one play away from ending badly.

Tuesday, February 25, 2014

Stephen Drew is Still a Free Agent, and No One Should Feel Bad For HIm



Stephen Drew, who last fall rejected the Red Sox qualifying offer — a one-year contract of $14.1 million — remains jobless even as spring training rolls on. Drew is still said to be looking for $14 million per season, the same amount that he previously declined.

But here's the reality, Mr. Drew: When you roll the dice, sometimes you lose.

Being attached to draft pick compensation has undoubtedly had an impact on Drew's market.

But Drew's offensive performance the last three seasons has likely played a role as well.

Here's Drew's slash line for each of the last three seasons:

2011: .252/.317/.396
2012: .250/.326/.382
2013: .253/.333/.443

Weak hitting. Weak on-base. Weak slugging. In my world, that's not a $14 million-per-year player.

Yet, Drew doesn't think the above statistics have anything to do with the lack of interest in him this offseason. Nor does he seem to recognize that perhaps he's simply asking for too much money given his three-year track record.

It's been reported that the Red Sox have offered Drew a two-year contract for an undisclosed sum, and the Mets have reportedly discussed a salary of around $9.5 million for Drew, which is what he earned last year with the Sox.

But that's just not enough for Drew, who seems to place a higher value on himself than anyone else. In Drew's estimation, he's not the problem. The problem, in his view, is the draft pick compensation system.

Here's what Drew told CBS Sports’ Jon Heyman on Friday:

“You hate to say it, but it really messes up free agency for guys who worked hard. A lot of people don’t want to give up that first-round pick, and that’s what it boils down to. It’s unusual. I understand draft picks, but at the same time, you have a guy who’s proven as very good on defense and a top five shortstop if you look at it.”

“Our union has been really good. But I think we really have to look at this. Is this really good for free agency? Our players need to sit back and look at it and see what we need to do about it.”

Boo hoo. Life is tough. Again, Drew was offered a guaranteed salary of $14.1 million by the Red Sox for this season, and he turned it down because it wasn't enough. He thought he could get more on the open market. Other players did the same (such as Jacoby Ellsbury, for example), and some of them got paid.

But not everyone. Nelson Cruz turned down the $14.1 million qualifying offer made by the Rangers and last week ended up settling for $8 million from Baltimore. He rolled the dice and he lost. That's the name of the game when you gamble. Bets don't always go your way.

That's the bitter reality Stephen Drew hasn't come to grips with yet. But eventually he may have to. He has no leverage at this point, and the baseball clock is ticking.

Wednesday, February 05, 2014

Ryan Lavarnway Fighting To Keep His Baseball Career Alive in 2014



The 2014 season will be a critical one for Red Sox catcher Ryan Lavarnway. The 26-year old is down to his last option and is a long shot to make the 25-man roster out of spring training.

An option allows a team to send a player back and forth from the minors to majors during a season. Every player has three option years.

In essence, a team can send a player down to the minors for just three seasons. After that, the player must stick on the 25-man roster, or his team risks losing him. After a player has made trips back to the minors in three different seasons, he must first be passed through waivers (where he can be claimed by another team) before again being reassigned to the minors.

That means Lavarnway has to show the Sox enough this season to stick with the big league club, or else 2014 will likely be his last with the organization.

The problem for Lavarnway is that he is currently blocked by two veteran catchers, A.J. Pierzynski and David Ross, at the big league level.

Beyond that, Lavarnway also sits behind minor league catchers Christian Vazquez (age 23) and Blake Swihart (age 21) on the depth chart. The Sox see the latter two as their catchers of the future.

Lavarnway was once viewed as a solid prospect with lots of power potential. After all, he stands 6'4" and weighs 240 pounds. With that kind of size, Lavarnway certainly profiles as a power hitter. And for a few years, he proved it in the minors.

In 2009, at Single-A Greenville, Lavarnway belted 21 homers along with 36 doubles, 87 RBI and a .540 slugging percentage. He followed that in 2010 by hitting a combined 22 homers and 27 doubles, to go along with 70 RBI and a .489 slugging, between Greenville and Double-A Portland.

The next season, 2011, was split between Portland and Triple-A Pawtucket. Lavarnway took a big step forward, smashing a combined 32 homers, along with 23 doubles, 93 RBI and a fantastic .563 slugging percentage.

Lavarnway appeared to be on his way to a productive big league career, and seemed poised to supplant Jason Varitek as the Red Sox' primary catcher.

But, beginning in 2012, Lavarnway took giant steps backward. His development didn't merely stop, but seemed to regress.

That season, the catcher had just 8 homers and a .439 slugging through 319 at-bats at Pawtucket.

Last year, Lavarnway performed even worse at Pawtucket, hitting .250/.346/.350 in 214 plate appearances. While the .346 OBP is respectable, his .350 slugging percentage was horrid. After all, there are guys who bat .350 each year. It is a clear sign that Lavarnway's power has simply vanished.

Lavarnway had stints with the Red Sox in each of the last three seasons, getting 43, 166 and 82 plate appearances, respectively. Though it's a relatively small sample size (totaling just 291 plate appearances), Lavarnway has shown little power, or anything else. In that span, the catcher has hit just 5 homers and posted a .208/.258/.327 line.

The last two seasons have lowered Lavarnway's stock and diminished the organization's once great hope for him. In fact, it has served to drop Lavarnway down the organizational depth chart and put him on the bubble.

The upcoming season could be a make or break one for Lavarnway. It's time to perform and show some value, or potentially face being released.

That's why GM Ben Cherington has confirmed that Lavarnway will get some time at first base this spring, and may also play some first base at Pawtucket this season.

The idea seems to have been embraced by Lavarnway, who says, "Any way I can find to make myself more valuable to the team as a player, I look at as a positive.”

It's not just that Lavarnway will be fighting for a job with the Red Sox this season, or even a spot in the minors. He'll be fighting to keep his baseball career alive at any level, with any club.

Baseball is all about seizing the moment and proving your value, and Lavarnway knows this.

“At the end of the day, how you play dictates everything in the game,” Lavarnway said. “Every opportunity that you earn, or that's afforded you, is a direct reflection of how the way that you've played. I need to continue to improve every day."

Tuesday, December 10, 2013

Jason Bay is a Cautionary Free Agent Tale, and the Red Sox Made the Right Choice




The former Red Sox left fielder is the classic cautionary tale about high-priced free agents


Jason Bay came to the Red Sox from Pittsburgh in 2008 in the same deal that sent Manny Ramirez to the Dodgers.

Bay was an instant success in Boston, posting a .293/.370/.527 slash line, while belting nine homers and driving in 37 runs in just 211 plate appearances. Those numbers projected to something in the range of 30 homers and 100 RBI over the course of a full season.

The next year, Bay lived up to those projections by having a career year, in which he belted 36 homers with 119 RBI and a .921 OPS. That season, 2009, Bay was named #41 on the Sporting News' list of the 50 greatest current players in baseball.

After six seasons, in which he had averaged 30 home runs and 99 RBI, Bay was a bona fide star. And he was going to be paid handsomely as a result.

By having a career year, Bay had positioned himself nicely going into free agency. But negotiations between Bay and the Red Sox didn't go smoothly. First, the outfielder rejected the Sox offer of salary arbitration. The team then offered a contract that included language protecting them in the event that Bay's knees became problematic (a physical obviously showed something that gave the club some concern). But Bay balked at the offer.

Instead, on December 29, 2009, Bay agreed to a four-year, $66 million contract with the New York Mets, which also included a vesting option for a fifth year.

However, that contract quickly became an albatross for the Mets.

Over three seasons in New York (the team and the player eventually agreed to an early contract termination), Bay hit a grand total of 26 home runs (10 less than his 2009 season with the Red Sox) and drove in 124 runs. That amounted to an average of just nine home runs and 41 RBI per season.

Making matters worse, Bay batted just .223 over those three seasons, marred by a lowly .165 average in 2012.

The former star outfielder was an unmitigated bust in New York. Neither the player or the team was happy, but the player still got paid handsomely.

Bay then signed a one-year free agent contract with the Seattle Mariners before the 2013 season. The arrangement allowed him to play for the club nearest his home in British Columbia, making it a home coming of sorts.

Yet, once again, Bay faltered, posting a .204/.298/.393 line, with 11 homers and 20 RBI. He was designated for assignment on July 29, and was eventually released on August 6.

The career of the 2004 NL Rookie of the Year and three-time All Star had gone off a cliff. It was no aberration. For four seasons, Bay spiraled downward, looking like a shadow of his former self. And it wasn't because he got old. Bay's career was derailed by age 31, largely due to injuries.

As a member of the Mets, the outfielder suffered a concussion in 2010 and was limited to just 95 games. However, Bay was snakebitten once again in 2011 and started the season on the disabled list due to a rib injury that limited him to 123 games. But the worst was yet to come.

Early in the 2012 season, Bay broke his ribs making a diving catch and again wound up on the DL. Yet, that wasn't the end of his woes. Bay soon suffered another concussion that put him back on the DL. The combination of injuries limited him to just 70 games that season.

Interestingly, Bay's knees, which so concerned the Red Sox, were never a problem.

In the four years since he left Boston, Bay topped out at 123 games and averaged just 89 games per season.

Now comes word that Bay is headed to Japan in order to continue his baseball career. How the mighty have fallen. Bay has taken a long, slow ride into oblivion.

Bay is the cautionary tale about free agents. His may be an extraordinary case, but it is not isolated. Players are signed based on past performance. Unfortunately, that is not a very good indicator of future performance. Long term contracts (and Bay's deal with the Mets was just four years) leave teams with little flexibility, yet create great financial obligations.

History shows that the Red Sox made a wise decision by not falling in love with Bay and entering into a bidding war for his services. The Sox reportedly offered Bay a four-year, $60 million contract, yet he was seeking more. The Mets offered an additional $6 million, and that got it done.

However, the Mets' success in those negotiations ultimately turned out to be their downfall, and the Sox have been thanking their lucky stars ever since. It's fair to say the Sox dodged a bullet. But it was also an example of restraint.

The Sox placed a value on the player and refused to exceed that cost. They accepted the possibility that they might be outbid, and eventually they were. Goodbye and good luck, Jason.

As history shows, it was a wise choice.

The Red Sox received the 39th (Anthony Ranaudo) and 57th (Brandon Workman) selections in the 2010 Major League Baseball Draft as compensation. Workman pitched in the 2013 World Series for the Sox and will be on their Opening Day roster in 2014. Ranuado also has a chance of pitching for the club in 2014.

The Red Sox benefitted in more ways than one from their decision to let Bay walk. They saved money, gained financial flexibility and got two young players that may impact their roster for years to come.

In other words, though the Mets are finally free of Bay's contract, the Red Sox restraint in 2009 continues to pay dividends in Boston.

It's difficult to predict the future, and hindsight is always 20/20. Long-term, free-agent contracts are a gamble. The Red Sox have always been grateful that the Mets outbid them for Bay.

Meanwhile, the Mets spent four years regretting their pursuit of the outfielder (they still owed him $21 million when they parted ways after just three seasons).

That's food for thought in the aftermath of Jacoby Ellsbury's signing with the rival Yankees. While Bay was signed for four years at $66 million, beginning with his age 31 season, Ellsbury is signed for seven years at $153 million, beginning with his age 30 season.

That's why it will hardly be surprising if at some point in the next few years, the Red Sox are again feeling grateful that they were outbid (and thereby saved) by another New York team.

With a little perspective, restraint is often viewed as a virtue.

Monday, November 25, 2013

Breaking Down Free Agent Jacoby Ellsbury



Last week, the Mets signed outfielder Chris Young to a one-year, $7.2 million contract, pending a physical.

In 2013, Young hit .200/.280/.379 with 12 homers and 10 steals. That feeble performance somehow warranted a $7.2 million pay day for next season.

That begs the question, how much is Jacoby Ellsbury worth?

Ellsbury plays terrific defense. With his superior speed, the center fielder gets to balls that others can't.

Yet, while Ellsbury is capable of making highlight-reel plays, his weak arm is a limitation. Have you ever seen him throw out anyone at home plate? Me neither.

In 2013, Ellsbury put together a slash line of .298/.355/.426/.781, with 9 homers, 31 doubles, 53 RBI and 52 stolen bases, which led the majors.

Let's breakdown those numbers a bit:

The .298 average is nice and it was right in line with Ellsbury's .297 career mark. The other thing that stands out is the 52 steals; 2013 marked the third time in his seven seasons that Ellsbury eclipsed the 50-steal mark. The man is undoubtedly an elite base stealer.

However, the .350 on-base percentage, while a decent clip, is not elite. Some great hitters bat .350. Moreover, a .350 OBP for a leadoff hitter, in particular, is nothing special.

Another thing that jumps out is that Ellsbury, a guy with terrific speed, had just 31 doubles in 2013. For comparison, Jarrod Saltalamacchia, a big, lumbering guy, had 40 doubles last season. How is that possible?

Yet, this year was no fluke. Ellsbury has surpassed the 30-doubles mark in just one other season; his freak year of 2011, when he had 46.

Ultimately, the job of a leadoff hitter is to first get on base and then score. As noted, last season Ellsbury posted a .355 OBP, roughly in line with his .350 career average. That put Ellsbury 38th in the majors and 19th in the American League. Either way, that's not elite.

When it comes to scoring runs, Ellsbury is good, but not great. In fact, Ellsbury has scored at least 100 runs in just one of his seven seasons. In 2013, Ellsbury scored 92 runs despite stealing 52 bases. How did that happen?

Considering that the Red Sox were first in the majors in runs, on-base percentage and slugging percentage, you have to wonder how Ellsbury failed to score at least 100 runs last season.

Ellsbury's 92 runs were seventh in the AL in 2013, which is fine. But with his great speed, failing to score 100 runs — on a team that produces runs at such a prodigious rate — is hard to fathom.

Ellsbury had a freak season in 2011, which seems to be the basis of agent Scott Boras' argument that the center fielder is worthy of an elite contract. But 2011 was an outlier; it was not representative of Ellsbury's overall career.

In 660 at-bats in 2011, Ellsbury hit 32 homers. In the remaining 2,252 at-bats in his career, Ellsbury has hit 33 homers. In fact, Ellsbury has never even reached double digits in any other season.

One way or another, Ellsbury is about to become a very rich man. Given that baseball is awash in new TV contract money, it's easy to surmise that Ellsbury is on the verge of a windfall contract.

However, it will be particularly fascinating to see how many (if any) teams view him as a $20 million per year player.

As history shows, teams that sign players to long-term, high-dollar contracts are often left bitterly disappointed in the end (i.e Barry Zito, Ryan Howard, Carl Crawford, Vernon Wells, Mark Teixeira, Prince Fielder, Johan Santana and Alex Rodriguez, for example).

Manny Ramirez was arguably the only player who continually earned his $20 million annual salary, inasmuch as a baseball player can truly earn that kind of money. Yet, it's anybody's guess how long Ramirez was using PEDs to achieve his gaudy stats.

The economics of the game are simply crazy right now; average players are getting the kind of money once reserved for superstars. Ellsbury is certainly well-above average, so he is going to get an enormous pact one way or another.

Jon Heyman of CBSSports.com reports that Ellsbury is looking for deal in the range of the seven-year, $142 million contract that Carl Crawford signed with Boston three years ago. That deal is now widely viewed as a bust. Baseball execs may be wary of handing the same sort of deal to Ellsbury.

In fact, Red Sox owner John Henry recently expressed a reluctance to enter into long-term contracts.

"We had a long history of overpaying and going too long in contracts... You can make mistakes. You can sign someone to a five-year deal that should have been a four-year deal."

Henry indicated that the Sox would rather overpay players on short-term deals, as they did last offseason, rather than engage in long-term contracts.

"You can pay him a few million extra a year in order to put together the exact team that can contend," said Henry.

If you take the owner at his word, and Ellsbury sticks to his guns in pursuing a seven-year pact, the center fielder has already played his last game with the Red Sox.

As much as I love Ellsbury's skills and abilities, he is not a $20 million per year player. Yet, it only takes one irrational, irresponsible owner to make such an offer.

If the Red Sox lose the 30-year-old Elsbury to free agency, they will be losing a player who stole 52 bases in 2013 and 241 in his Red Sox career. Yet, while Ellsbury's greatest strength is his speed, that typically starts to fade during a player's mid-30s.

Over the course of a five year deal, a team may be able to maximize Ellsbury's value, provided that he remains healthy (which is not a certainty, given that he missed significant time in two of the last four seasons due to injury). But on a six or seven-year deal, which Ellsbury is allegedly seeking, things could get dicey.

That's why the Red Sox should remain steadfast and not get involved in a bidding war over a long term contract for Ellsbury.

In reality, he is probably worth five years, $75 million — or an average annual value of $15 million.

While an annual salary of that magnitude would not have ranked among the 20 highest in baseball last season, it's fair to argue that Ellsbury is not among the 20 best players in baseball right now.

Thursday, October 31, 2013

Red Sox Culminate Remarkable 2013 Season With 8th World Series Championship



The Red Sox entered the 2013 season as a team with low expectations in the baseball world. Everyone it seemed, except for the Red Sox themselves, expected little from this club. After all, the Sox had finished 2012 with a 69-93 record, their worst since the 1965 team posted a woeful 62-100 record 48 years earlier.

Red Sox fans had gotten used to years of heartbreak and disappointment, but they weren't accustomed to such futility. For decades, the franchise had been highly competitive. But the 2012 Red Sox were just pathetic.

So, when the team arrived in Fort Meyers for spring training this year, most pundits and prognosticators expected little from them.

In fact, more than three dozen writers and broadcasters made preseason picks for ESPN.com’s Major League Baseball preview section last spring, and not one of them picked the Red Sox to win the American League East.

Not one writer on SI’s seven-person panel picked Boston to make the playoffs. Nobody at Hardball Talk had them in the postseason either. And three out of four on Yahoo! had the Sox in last place.

Yet, from the very beginning, the Red Sox players all seemed to believe in themselves and in each other. Somehow, none of them seemed to believe that the World Series was out of reach.

In my 2013 Red Sox preview, I wrote that in order for the Red Sox to succeed, nearly every player needed to more or less have a career year. And in the end, that's more or less what happened.

The 2013 Red Sox became one of the most amazing worst-to-first stories in Major League Baseball history. But that outcome was hard to predict back on Opening Day.

The Red Sox front office had a busy offseason, signing David Ross, Jonny Gomes, Shane Victorino, Stephen Drew, Ryan Dempster, Koji Uehara and Mike Napoli to free agent deals. The Sox also traded for Joel Hanrahan and Mike Carp. But none of them was a bona fide star. None seemed to be capable of carrying a team, or at least helping to turn around such as woeful club.

Yet, the Sox started winning right out of the gate. They went 18-8 in April and 18-10 in May. Suddenly, everyone was paying attention. This team was for real. They followed that by going 17-9 in June, 21-5 in July, 16-12 in August, and concluded the regular season by going 16-9 in September.

The Red Sox were the model of consistency this season.

From Memorial Day onward, the Red Sox were out of first place in the AL East for just seven days, and they were never more than a half-game out. The team was remarkably consistent all season long. The Sox were the only team in the American League not to have a losing streak of longer than three games.

Boston had the best record in the American League this season and also led baseball in runs scored. But that was only part of the story.

The Sox were also quite resilient this year, posting a 44-22 record after a loss. They made a habit of bouncing back after coming up short. That's how they got here; they never gave up, and they never lost heart.

The Sox were a team of great character, and of great characters. Guys like Jonny Gomes, Mike Napoli, Shane Victorino and Ryan Dempster brought great determination, energy, enthusiasm and humor to the ball club. From the beginning, they were a fun bunch and a funny bunch.

Critically, GM Ben Cherington and his staff deserve all the credit for assembling this playful and talented bunch. Cherington added an unselfish mix of players who were committed to the team concept and committed to winning.

But heart, hustle and character can only carry a team so far. Ultimately, a successful team has to get it done on the field. To that end, the Sox were first in the majors in runs (853), on-base percentage (.349) and slugging percentage (.446), while posting the second highest batting average (.277).

The Red Sox got enormous contributions from almost every guy in the lineup, and on any given night any one of them could be the difference-maker, providing a game-winning hit, pitch or play.

David Ortiz posted his seventh 30-homer, 100-RBI season and finished in the top 10 in the American League in virtually every offensive category. Ortiz led the Major Leagues with 27 intentional walks, eight more than any other player.

He also led the Red Sox in the Triple Crown categories — home runs (30), RBIs (103) and batting average (.309) — becoming the first to do so since Manny Ramirez in 2001.

Dustin Pedroia batted .301 with a .372 OBP. The second baseman had 42 doubles, scored 91 runs, drove in 84 runs and stole 17 bases. In the end, he also won his third Gold Glove.

Jacoby Ellsbury batted .298 with a .355 OBP, while scoring 92 runs and stealing 52 bases. Ellsbury, who also played excellent defense in center field, set himself up for a fantastic free agent contract in the process.

Shane Victorino batted .294 with a .351 OBP, cracked 15 homers, stole 21 bases, scored 82 runs and drove in 61 runs from the two-hole. On top of all that, his strong arm and stellar defense in right field earned him his fourth Gold Glove.

Yet, there were huge and invaluable contributions up and down the lineup, even from players of whom little was expected.

Daniel Nava came out of nowhere and finished in the top 10 in the American League in batting. Who projected that?

Jarrod Saltalamacchia set a new single-season club record for doubles by a catcher, with 40. Salty also batted .273 with 14 homers and 65 RBI.

Jonny Gomes led the majors with four pinch-hit homers this year. Gomes had a flair for the dramatic and for coming through in the clutch. Moreover, he proved to be a far better fielder than anyone gave him credit.

Mike Carp was similarly clutch. In just 216 at-bats, the first baseman/outfielder posted a .296/.362/.523 line, with 9 homers and 43 RBI. Carp's versatility was of great benefit to manager John Farrell. Carp could be a starting first baseman, and he just might be next season.

Speaking of Farrell, there is no overstating the manager's influence and steady hand. Farrell laid out clear expectations from the start in spring training. Every player was expected to be on time and play hard — or "play the game the right way," as is often said in baseball parlance.

Farrell was able to manage a bunch of disparate personalities and players from different cultures, many of whom spoke different languages. The skipper got them to check their egos and work together with a common purpose and goal: team first. Be the best you can be, set high expectations and play to win.

David Ross earned the confidence and respect of the pitching staff, and what a pitching staff it was.

Jon Lester bounced back, winning 15 games, posting a 3.75 ERA and 1.29 WHIP. Lester led all Red Sox starters in starts (33), innings (213.1) and strikeouts (177). The veteran lefty showed leadership and grit, setting an example for everyone else on the staff.

Clay Buchholz, despite the fact that he again proved to be so delicate, had quite a first half and seemed destined for a Cy Young Award. On June 8, Buchholz was 9-0 with a 1.71 ERA. Then he hurt his neck/shoulder and missed the next three months, or exactly half the season. The righty finished the season with a fantastic 12-1 record and 1.74 ERA. However, he made just 16 starts and threw only 108.1 innings.

John Lackey redeemed himself by winning 10 games, despite league-low run support. The righty posted a 3.52 ERA and 1.16 WHIP, while striking out 161 batters. We also found out that Lackey had been pitching with an elbow held together by by threads in 2010 and 2011. The Angels knew this at the end of the 2009 season and chose not to re-sign him. The Red Sox were also aware of this and still gave Lackey a five-year deal. That wasn't his fault.

The big Texan showed heart and grit by pitching two seasons with a bum elbow, and he never used it as an excuse. Yet, he earned his bones in Boston this season, and especially in the post-season. Lackey finally stepped up and earned that big contract. How can you not feel good for that guy?

The Sox lost closer Joel Hanrahan to a season-ending injury early in the year, and then lost his replacement, Andrew Bailey, to yet another season-ending injury. Those losses could have been devastating.

However, Koji Uehara — an unheralded, under-the-radar free agent signing — jumped right into the role and dominated. Uehara proved that he had ice water in his veins. At one point, the Japanese righty retired 37 consecutive batters (four short of Bobby Jenks record for relievers, set in 2007) and posted a 30 2/3 innings scoreless streak, a remarkable stretch that lasted from July 9 to Sept. 18.

From the beginning, this Red Sox team was unpredictable, they were entertaining, and they were likable. They bonded quickly, and the fans quickly bonded to them as well. They were a bearded, motley-looking bunch, and Boston loved them for it.

In the end, the Red Sox had far more talent than most people gave them credit. They also had a ton of heart, desire and will, plus an unyielding belief in one another. The players showed great confidence not only in themselves, but also in each other. On any given night, the team had a new hero that would step up and win them a ball game.

The Sox had 36 come-from-behind wins and 22 final at-bat victories this season. Early on, it was clear this team had one key element that eventually made them World Series champions: Magic.

Hardly anyone alive had witnessed what unfolded at Fenway Park on October 30th. It had been 95 years since the last Red Sox team clinched a World Series championship at Fenway. That was in 1918 against the Cubs.

The Red Sox ultimately won their eighth World Series in 13 tries on Wednesday night. In the process, a legendary and historic franchise made even more history.

Only the Yankees (27), the Cardinals (11) and A's (9) have more World Series Championships than the eight won by the Red Sox.

The Sox are just the second team (1991 Twins) to win the World Series the year after a last place finish. Faith has been restored in, and by, the Red Sox.

What a season to remember. What a team.

And this was supposed to be a "bridge year." Remember that?

The future looks bright for the Boston Red Sox and their legion of fans.

Sunday, August 04, 2013

Peavy/Iglesias Trade Should Benefit Red Sox Now and in Future



The Red Sox trade of Jose Iglesias that netted them Jake Peavy is controversial to many Sox fans. After all, Iglesias had been highly touted for his defensive prowess since the Red Sox signed the Cuban defector as an international free agent in September 2009.

Defensively, Iglesias didn't disappoint, turning out to be one of the finest shortstops anyone could remember seeing in Boston. At just 23 years of age, many Sox fans looked forward to watching him vacuum up balls and save runs for at least the next decade.

However, Iglesias has always had trouble at the plate. Yet, almost miraculously, Iglesias seemed to put all those troubles behind him this season, posting a .330 average and .375 on-base percentage over 66 games.

But after a stunning July performance that saw the young shortstop batting over .400, his average has been steadily falling. That was quite predictable. No one in their right mind thought that Iglesias had suddenly turned into Ted Williams.

Over 100 career games at the major league level, Iglesias is a .281 hitter with a .333 on-base percentage. But Iglesias struggled for years in the minor leagues, showing horrible plate discipline. He routinely swung at balls out of the strike zone and missed. Not only did he consistently post poor batting averages, he also showed an inability to draw walks, resulting in a weak on-base percentage that didn't warrant time in the majors.

In essence, all too often he was an automatic out.

Entering this season, Iglesias was ranked as the 10th best prospect in the Red Sox organization. If someone had asked you back in spring training if you would trade Iglesias for Jake Peavy, I'll bet you would have enthusiastically said yes.

Peavy is a three-time All-Star. He won the Cy Young Award and the pitching Triple Crown with San Diego in 2007. The righty had a 3.25 ERA from 2002-08, though it has since jumped to 4.00. But it's important to note that Peavy has been pitching in the hitter-friendly US Cellular Field since 2009, as a member of the White Sox.

Peavy was 36-29 with a 4.00 ERA in parts of five seasons with Chicago. And in 45 starts since the beginning of 2012, prior to coming to Boston, Peavy had won 19 games and had a 3.61 ERA.

While some contend that Peavy's best days are behind him, he was an All-Star as recently as last season, finishing with an 11-12 record and a 3.37 ERA, to go along with 8.0 strikeouts and 2.0 walks per nine innings.

In his first start with Boston on Saturday, Peavy didn't disappoint, throwing seven-plus innings of two-run ball, in which he allowed just four hits. He walked two and struck out seven, throwing an economical 99 pitches in the process.

The putative reason for the trade was because Clay Buchholz has not pitched since June 8th, nearly two months ago. And Buchholz may not return until the end of August. Dr. James Andrews, who examined Buchholz last month, told the pitcher that he should only expect to make 4-5 starts during the rest of the regular season.

But Buchholz will eventually be back, and he won't be burdened by fatigue at the end of the season. The 28-year-old has thrown just 84.1 innings this year and should have a fresh arm upon his return.

The bigger issue, the one that most surely necessitated this trade, is Jon Lester.

Since May 20, Lester has just five quality starts, and two of them came in a five-day stretch in late July. In other words, Lester has been pretty ineffective for long stretches this season.

From mid-May, 2009 to September 5, 2011 (a stretch of 83 consecutive starts), Lester had a 2.79 ERA and a winning percentage over .700. But it's been pretty much downhill since.

Lester went 1-3 with a 5.40 ERA in September 2011, the beginning of a worrisome downturn for the former star pitcher. In 2012, by far the worst season of Lester's career, he went 9-4 with a 4.82 ERA.

Add it all up and, since the start of the 2012 season, Lester is 19-20 with a 4.67 ERA and a 1.38 WHIP. That's not the stuff of a No. 1 pitcher. That's a No. 5 pitcher, at best.

Many Red Sox fans were hopeful that the return of John Farrell, the former pitching coach under whom Lester had his greatest success, would put the lefty's career back on track. And at the start of this season, that seemed to be the case.

Lester started the year looking like his vintage 2010 self. Over his first nine starts, the lefty went 6-0 with 2.72 ERA. But that was largely the result of a torrid April, when Lester went 4-0 with a 3.11 ERA.

Since that time, Lester has often looked unworthy of a spot in the rotation. He went 2-2 with a 3.92 ERA in May and 2-2 with a 7.62 ERA in June. That slide was alarming. However, Lester mostly righted the ship in July, going 2-2 with a 3.13 ERA.

Though he is only 29 and should be in the prime of his career, Lester has clearly regressed. He has thrown 1,306 innings for the Red Sox and perhaps that has taken its toll. Lester's fastball has lost velocity in each of the last three seasons. He can no longer just blow hitters away. Instead, he now needs to rely on guile, an element that far too often eludes him.

Lester dominated hitters from 2008 to 2010, averaging 16.7 wins, 207 innings and 201 strikeouts. That now seems like a long time ago. Since then, he seems to have gotten old really quickly.

The lefty has thrown the fourth-most pitches in the majors this season. Perhaps that's the reason for his ongoing struggles.

The Red Sox will be faced with a very interesting decision about Lester's future this offseason. The team holds a $13 million club option on Lester for 2014, with a $250,000 buyout.

He is not worth that kind of money right now, though the potential still remains. The reality is that the Sox aren't able to count on Lester or predict what kind of pitcher will take the mound on any given start; an excellent one, a good one, a mediocre one, or an awful one.

In his last 60 starts — the equivalent of two seasons — Lester is 19-23 with a 4.89 ERA and a 1.40 WHIP. He has averaged 7.4 strikeouts per nine innings.

In the 150 games prior, Lester was 76-31 with a 3.43 ERA, a 1.28 WHIP and 8.4 strikeouts per nine innings.

Picking up Lester's option would also give the Sox leverage to trade him, should there be any interested takers at that price.

Though the Red Sox drafted and developed Lester, at this point there has to be a lot of frustration and disappointment upstairs at Fenway Park.

That's why obtaining Peavy may ultimately prove to be such a sage move — this season and beyond. The veteran is signed for $14.5 million in 2014, meaning he is not merely a two-month rental. That was critical to the Red Sox in making this trade.

Peavy also has a $15 million player option in 2015 that would vest if he pitches 400 innings from 2013-14, including 190 in 2014. But because he had thrown only 80 innings this season at the time of the trade, that is unlikely.

With Peavy in the fold next year, the Sox could potentially deal Lester or Ryan Dempster this offseason (the Sox have one year of control remaining on both).

Additionally, the extra year of control over Peavy allows the Sox an opportunity to make a qualifying offer (one year at approximately $14 million-$15 million) to him after next season, which would garner them a draft pick in return. That would offset the loss of at least one of the three low-level prospects also traded to obtain Peavy.

Trades are usually difficult to assess in their immediate aftermath. It usually takes a bit of time to gain the necessary perspective and accurately judge a trade on its merits. Some trades end up being perceived as lopsided and regretful for one party (think Jeff Bagwell for Larry Andersen). Some work out well for both parties, addressing the needs of each. And others end up serving no one, as the players involved become injured or otherwise underperform.

If the Red Sox win the World Series, or even make it to the Series, then this trade will have been a good one and GM Ben Cherington will be praised. However, if the Sox get booted from the playoffs early, and if Iglesias goes on to be a star, we may look back on this trade with regret.

I'll miss Iglesias, no doubt. He'll make hundreds of great plays over the course of his career, which will likely be a long one. And he will surely rob Sox hitters many times in the years ahead. But his bat was always in question, and his offense was falling back to earth in his final month with Boston.

Iglesias was 5 of 43 over his last 12 games, with one run scored. His last extra-base hit was on July 4. And, of his 70 hits this season, 24 were in the infield. That .400 average was fun for a while, but he was playing way out of his head.

Peavy will likely mean more to the Sox fortunes this season than Iglesias. And the Red Sox still have a wealth of talented prospects in the minors that play on the left side of the infield. Of course there's third baseman Will Middlerooks and shortstop Xander Bogaerts. But that's not all.

The Sox also have other promising shortstops in their development pipeline: Deven Marrero, the 2012 first-rounder, is at High-A Salem and Tzu-Wei Lin — a 19-year-old who signed out of Taiwan last summer for $2.05 million — is at Single-A Lowell.

In other words, even without Iglesias, the Red Sox future still looks bright. And with Jake Peavy, the present looks a whole lot brighter as well.

Put it this way, if the playoffs were to start to tomorrow, who would you rather have in the Sox four-man rotation: Jake Peavy or Jon Lester?

Yeah, I'd take Peavy too.

Friday, June 28, 2013

Evaluating the Red Sox Mid-Way Through the 2013 Season



The Red Sox have now played 81 games and officially reached the mid-point of the 2013 season. The Sox find themselves at 48-33, atop the AL East and owners of the best record in the American League. Only the Cardinals and Pirates have fewer losses (30 each).

The Sox got off to a red hot start, posting a 18-8 record in April. They cooled to 15-15 in May, but are 15-11 so far in June.

The Boston offense leads the majors with 417 runs, 407 RBI and a .793 OPS. They're also second in hits (764); second in walks (305); tied for second in stolen bases (62); second in on-base percentage (.348); second in slugging (.445); and third in batting (.274).

Boston's starting pitchers are second in the majors with 440 strikeouts and are tied for second with 36 wins. They are second in the AL with 486.1 innings and second in opponent's batting average, at .246. Sox starters are also third in the AL with a 3.79 ERA.

If there is a weakness on this team, it is the closer's role. Joel Hanrahan was lost for the season due to an elbow injury and Andrew Bailey, a former All Star who was slated for the closer's role last season, failed to step up and seize his opportunity. Bailey blew one-third of his save chances (4 of 12) before being demoted to middle relief.

Thirty-eight-year-old Koji Uehara has been appointed as the new closer, and it's too soon to tell how that will fare. He certainly seems to have the right make-up for the job.

When it comes to defense, the Sox are solidly middle-of-the-pack in the AL with a .986 fielding percentage and 43 errors.

However, Dustin Pedroia is having a Gold Glove-caliber season at second, and the sure-handed Jose Iglesias has been installed as the team's starting third baseman (replacing the demoted Will Middlebrooks). Iglesias has seamlessly made the adjustment to his new position.

Stephen Drew has surprised many will his excellent defensive play and Shane Victorino covers lots of ground in right and also has an excellent arm. To top things off, both Daniel Nava and Jonny Gomes have been far better in the field than anyone expected.

This team seemed to gel early on and does indeed have the great clubhouse chemistry that GM Ben Cherington was seeking during the offseason. The players have openly expressed their support for one another and have noted a great sense of team unity. As easy as it was to dismiss Cherington's quest for chemistry, it does seem to be working.

Let's go around the diamond and look at the offensive performance of each payer to this point. I'll also project the current numbers over a full season, simply by doubling some offensive numbers, which I'll put in parenthesis. Lastly, we'll look at Red Sox statistician Bill James' pre-season projections and see how those might stack up at year's end.

Jarrod Saltalamacchia, catcher: .261/.326/.459/.785, 8 HR (16 HR), 30 RBI (60 RBI), 19 2B (38 2B)
Bill James' pre-season projection: 19 HR, .309/.454/.752

Salty's numbers are respectable for a catcher. As long as he remains healthy, it wouldn't be a surprise if he ends up with 20 homers and 40 doubles at season's end. Salty's continued health will be critical to the Red Sox fortunes considering David Ross' concussion problems and Ryan Lavarnway's inexperience.

Mike Napoli, first base: .264/.344/.447/.791, 9 HR (18 HR), 53 RBI (106 RBI), 21 2B (42 2B), 98 SO (third in baseball) (196 SO), 73 games (146 games)
Bill James' pre-season projection: .248/.350/.469, 29 HR, 75 RBI, 127 G

Napoli started the season red hot, posting 4 homers and 27 RBI in April. However, over the next two months, Napoli has managed just 5 homers and 26 RBI. That's like falling off a cliff. And he strikes out a ton. Napoli may whiff an astounding 200 times this season. Aren't you glad that three-year deal feel through?

Dustin Pedroia, second base: .318/.398/.434/.832, 5 HR (10 HR), 47 RBI (94 RBI), 21 2B (42 2B), 99 hits (198 hits), 43 BB (86 BB), 52 runs (104 runs), 80 games (160 games)
Bill James' pre-season projection: 296/.367/.459, 17 HR, 45 2B

To this point, Pedey has to be the Sox MVP. He plays stellar defense and makes stunning plays on a regular basis. Yes, his power has dropped, but expecting a guy who is 5' 6", 160 pounds to continually bash 17-20 homers may be a bit optimistic. That's not his game. Pedroia is doing everything else incredibly well and is having one of his best seasons in the majors.

Jose Iglesias, third base: .417/.466/.550/1.016, 1 HR, 9 RBI

James didn't make any projections for Iglesias. Why would he? The fact that Iglesias is the team's starting third baseman, having supplanted Will Middlebrooks (who was supposed to be a bona fide middle-of-the-order hitter) is nothing less than stunning. The kid's defense at third is every bit as good as at short.

And how is it that a guy who couldn't hit Triple-A pitching is batting over .400 in the bigs? No, that torrid pace won't continue (after all, he has 15 infield hits so far), but if Iglesias manages to hit even .300, that would be a shocking over-achievement. Iglesias looks like a keeper.

Stephen Drew, shortstop: .226/.308/.391/.699, 5 HR (10 HR), 29 RBI (58 RBI), 13 2B (26 RBI), 5 3B (10 3B)
Bill James pre-season projection: 11 HR, .325/.411/.736

Drew was once an offensive force with Arizona. Coming into this season, he ranked fourth among all Major League shortstops over the previous five seasons with a .441 slugging percentage and was fifth with a .770 OPS (min. 1,500 plate appearances).

Unfortunately, that firepower has vanished in Boston. It's not just that Drew isn't hitting; he's not getting on base much either. On the other hand, he has been really steady in the field and routinely makes excellent plays at short. Drew has just two errors this season, the same number as that defensive wizard, Iglesias.

Daniel Nava, outfield: 281/.372/.443/.815, 10 HR (20 HR), 49 RBI (98 RBI), 43 runs (86 runs)

Nava is another guy who Bill James didn't bother making projections for. Again, why would he? What Nava is doing is simply astonishing. I've detailed Nava's story previously, so I won't bother to do it again. But, let's just say that this guy has overcome all the odds, and every obstacle at every turn. No one, except perhaps Nava himself, expected him to perform at this level and to be among the Red Sox most productive players.

Jacoby Ellsbury, center field: .292/.356/.406/.762, 1 HR, 27 RBI (54 RBI), 19 2B (38 2B) 93 hits (186 hits), 32 SB (64 SB), 49 runs (98 runs)
Bill James pre-season projection: .294/.346/.436, 15 HR, 37 SB, 100 R

If you haven't been paying attention, Ellsbury has been red hot as of late. After batting just .254 in May, the center fielder is batting .356 in June. Yes, he has just one homer, but so what? He's a leadoff hitter. His job is to get on base and score, and he's doing that quite well. Additionally, he's frustrating opposing pitchers by continually putting himself in scoring position with his major league-leading 32 stolen bases.

Sure, Ellsbury's stellar 2011 season was an outlier. But he's playing great defense and looks like the guy we all fell in love with in 2008 and 2009, when he posted a cumulative .291 average and .346 OBP, while averaging 96 runs and 60 stolen bases. We'll take that guy any year.

Shane Victorino, right field: .297/.349/.401/.750, 3 HR (6 HR), 19 RBI (38 RBI), 9 2B (18 2B), 31 runs (62 runs)
Bill James pre-season projection: .269/.338/.418, 14 HR, 29 2B, 7 3B, 29 SB, 85 R

I'll admit it: Victorino doesn't look washed up and is performing better than I had anticipated. He's hitting for average, getting on base, playing great defense and has a far better arm than I had realized.

On the other hand, he's shown little power, is largely a singles hitter and has just nine stolen bases, which is a major letdown for a guy with that kind of speed. Victorino has stolen at least 30 bases in four of the last six years, including 39 last season. For a guy who is getting on base at a .349 clip, mostly by hitting singles, he's not putting himself in a position to score by stealing bases. That's why he has just 31 runs, which is not acceptable. He needs to do more in the second half. The most important thing is for Victorino to stay healthy; he has appeared in just 51 of the first 81 games this season.

STARTING PITCHING

Clay Buchholz is 9-0 with a stellar 1.71 ERA and 1.02 WHIP. He should be the starting pitcher in the All Star game, if he's healthy. And there's the rub. Once again, Buchholz has proven himself to be as delicate as a flower. If it's not one thing, it's another with this guy. He's never pitched 200 innings in his six-year career and that trend will continue. Buchholz topped out at 189.1 innings last season and he won't even pitch that many this year. The righty has thrown just 84.1 innings in 2013 and who knows what might ail him in the second half?

Jon Lester remains a frustrating mystery. Is he the guy who dominated hitters from 2008 to 2010, when he averaged 16.7 wins, 207 innings and 201 strikeouts, or the guy who has struggled so mightily since September 2011.

The lefty entered September 2011 with a 75-31 record and the highest winning percentage among qualified active pitchers (.708). However, Lester is just 18-21 (.462) since that time. And his 4.61 ERA is 65th among AL starters this season.

Lester is only 29 and should be in the prime of his career, yet he has regressed. Though he started the season strongly, going 4-0 with a 3.11 ERA in April, it's been mostly downhill since then. Lester went 2-2 with a 3.92 ERA in May and 2-2 with a 7.62 ERA in June. That slide is alarming.

Quite tellingly, Lester has the highest ERA among the Red Sox primary starters this season.

Felix Doubront is 4-3 with a 4.33 ERA. But he's fooling enough hitters to post 76 strikeouts in 79 innings. Doubront's biggest struggle continues to be his high pitch counts early in games, which leads to early exits and unwanted stress on the bullpen.

Doubront has gone as far as the seventh inning just once in his 13 starts this season. That needs to change soon. However, he did have a stellar eight-inning performance on June 18th (the longest of his career), in which he shutout the Rays on just three hits and no walks. It was, by far, the best performance of Doubront's brief career and it highlighted the reason the Red Sox still have so much hope for the 25-year-old's continued development.

Veteran Ryan Dempster has given the Sox lots of innings and fanned dozens of batters in the process. Though the righty is just 5-8 with a 4.15 ERA, he's thrown 95.1 innings and struck out 94 batters along the way.

Despite his record, Dempster always gives the Red Sox a chance to win and keeps them in games. The offense has given him a run support average of 5.19, which should be enough to win, given his 4.33 ERA. But somehow the wins just haven't materialized. Regardless, Dempster has been a consistently solid, middle-of-the-rotation starter for the Sox.

Lastly, there's John Lackey, who is having a remarkable comeback season. The righty's 2.99 ERA is 12th best among AL starters this season (min. 75 innings). Though Lackey is 5-5, he is getting the lowest run support of any Red Sox starter and, with an average of 4.15 runs per start, is just 64th in the AL.

Lackey has fanned 73 batters and given up just 77 hits in 78.1 innings this season. Not bad for a guy that most of the fan base was trying to run out of town.

The fact that the Red Sox have maintained their hold on first place in the ultra-competitive AL East speaks to the quality of this team. Four of the five clubs in the division are above .500 and the fifth, the Blue Jays, are at exactly .500.

To the contrary, only two teams in the AL Central and two in the AL West are over .500. Yes, the Red Sox are pretty good. They're beating the good teams, as well as the mediocre and bad ones.

The Sox are 26-15 at Fenway, 22-18 on the road and 21-14 against AL East teams. This new version of the Sox is for real.

What is most vital for the Sox in the second half is to stay healthy. Their playoff hopes are riding on the health of their staring lineup, their starting five and their bullpen.

Joel Hanrahan is out for the season. That was a big loss. But so far he is the only regular that is gone for the year. Resiliency and relatively good health are among the major reasons for this team's success to this point. David Ross and Shane Victorino have suffered through assorted injuries, yet only Ross is still out.

But, above all else, the health of Clay Buchholz will be the most important issue for this team going forward. Without their best pitcher, the complexion of the starting rotation changes dramatically.

As long as the Sox stay healthy, there is no reason not to expect them to continue their winning ways, right into the playoffs.